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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Russell Wilson: Never a Doubt

By Gail Wood
Jan. 26, 2014

Criticisms, the "you can't" slams, became Russell Wilson's pep talks, his source of motivation.

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Va., Wilson was often told he was too small to play quarterback, too little to turn out for football.

“When I was a kid, I wrote those things and put them on my wall,” Wilson says. “All the ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do that.’”

The “you can’t” comments hanging on his bedroom wall became a driving force to prove his critics wrong.

Even after his senior season in college, when he led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, even after he threw for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just four interceptions in his only season as a Badger, Wilson still heard the “you can’t” comments. In 2012, National Football League scouts said Wilson, who is listed as 5-foot-11 but is actually a little shorter, was too small to be a pro quarterback.

“He won’t be able to see and throw over his own linemen,” critics said.

Despite his strong arm, despite his speed, and despite a successful college career, first at North Carolina State and then at Wisconsin, Wilson dropped to the third round of the 2012 NFL draft before he was picked by the Seattle Seahawks. “Too small” haunted him again.

“I’ve been told all my life I can’t do something,” Wilson says.   

But since he was a kid, Wilson has had a secret counterpunch. Wilson’s source of inspiration has been his unbending Christian faith, his belief in prayer and trust in God. Wilson, who grew up in a Christian home and accepted Jesus into his heart at a young age, was always driven by pleasing someone other than his coach or the crowd.

“It starts with the Lord,” Wilson says. “I play for an audience of one. That’s what we talk about in our Bible studies. That’s what I try to share with my teammates.”

Focusing on what other people say about him — whether it’s the radio sports show host or the face-painted fan — is a dead end for him.

“It doesn’t matter what people say about me negatively,” Wilson says. “He’s too short. This guy can’t play. Whatever.”

Even the praise, the “this guy is really a great quarterback” comments, isn’t Wilson’s motivation. That’s why he says he doesn’t “have highs and lows.”

His approval meter is set on one thing.

“It doesn’t really matter what anyone says about me because I know God has made me unique,” Wilson says. “And He has put me in this position for great reasons. It’s to inspire other people, to play for Him. That’s all I really play for.”

Wilson’s reputation for being a hard worker didn’t begin with the Seahawks. At North Carolina State, he graduated in four years despite starting in both football and baseball, and playing minor league baseball during the summer. At the Collegiate School in Richmond, he was the prep star who pushed everyone else, arriving early to practice and staying late.

His work ethic has always influenced others.

“Russell was very much a leader,” says Mark Palyo, the football offensive coordinator when Wilson was at Collegiate. “He was always able to elevate the play of those around him. He was always able to get his teammates to respond in a positive way, to work hard, to give their very best.”

Palyo says Wilson never gave anything less than his best effort.

At Collegiate, Wilson earned all-state honors in football and baseball. As a high school junior, he threw for 3,287 yards and 40 touchdowns, while running for an additional 634 yards and 15 TDs.

Wilson pursued excellence on and off the field. In the classroom he was an honors student and as a Christian he always let his light shine.

“I remember Russell having a strong faith even back then,” Palyo says. “He was very open about his faith. It was a big part of who he was.”

As the N.C. State quarterback, Wilson threw 379 consecutive passes without an interception, breaking an NCAA record. He transferred to Wisconsin after the NCSU football coach released Wilson because he wouldn’t drop baseball. In his one season as a Badger, Wilson’s quarterback rating of 191.7 broke the NCAA record, turning a bad situation into a good one.

And it still is. Wilson tweets daily Bible verses and gives frequent faith proclamations on his Twitter account.

“Jesus, You are the source of my strength,” Wilson tweeted recently. And, quoting Matthew 7:7, he tweeted, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find.”

“God is faithful,” was another tweet expressing a lifelong conviction.

Wilson, just as he did in high school and college, continues to walk his talk. He’s not just a Sunday Christian who lives his faith one day a week. Wilson shared his testimony during the Northwest University (Assemblies of God) hall of fame banquet last spring in Kirkland, Wash.

“He always demonstrated his faith on and off the field,” Palyo says. “You could see that his faith was genuine.”

Leading up to the 2012 NFL draft, there was a lot of talk about two quarterbacks — Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III of Baylor. Wilson was the sixth quarterback selected.

But Wilson, trusting God was in control on that draft day, didn’t stress out about where or when he would be picked.

“I knew I was going to be called by the right team,” Wilson says. “That’s how the Lord works every single time for me. You just have to have faith. You have to trust.”

Hard times can challenge your faith. But Wilson’s advice is to keep the faith.

“You just have to trust Him,” Wilson says. “Believe in Him. That’s the key. You have to believe in His grace and in His mercy and what He does. Great things will happen to you.”

As a third round draft pick, Wilson wasn’t expected to start his rookie season. Especially since the Seahawks had just signed free agent Matt Flynn to a pricey three-year, $20.5 million contract. The big-buck deal gave Flynn a huge advantage in answering the question who was going to start. Owners don’t like signing then sitting big-money players.

But Wilson, after an impressive preseason, earned the starting spot. Unexpectedly, Wilson led Seattle to the playoffs and the National Football Conference semifinals.

During his initial season, Wilson tied the NFL’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, set a benchmark for a first-year quarterback with 16 consecutive completions in a game at Miami, and became the first player to run for three TDs and pass for another during the first half in a win at Buffalo.

The quarterback, who was considered too small and too short, was selected for the Pro Bowl in addition to being honored as Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Year and Sports Illustrated Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“I’ve been told all my life I can’t do something,” Wilson says.

He’s spent all his life proving his critics wrong.

“It starts with the Lord,” Wilson says. “No matter what the circumstances. Great things are going to happen. When bad things happen, you have to have amnesia.”

And Wilson gives God praise in all situations.

Gail Wood grew up attending Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Tacoma, Wash., and was a longtime sportswriter. He is the author of Saved Twice.


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